Prepare now for summer crops

with Bill Webb
Bill Webb Feed Solutions

The days are getting longer and soil temperatures are gradually rising – all of which means it’s time for sowing summer crops.

By now most farmers will have selected which paddocks to use and as part of preparation, taking individual paddock soil tests at 150mm depth instead of the usual 75mm for pasture is worth doing.

Those tests will quickly show any nutrients which may be lacking and may reveal some of the reasons those paddocks may not have produced well in the past.

It may be that the pH needs addressing or potash and magnesium levels may be down. In most cases levels of phosphate will be fine. Given the wet winter we’ve had, sulphur levels may be down and drainage issues may also need addressing.

Some farmers may be planning to plant maize this season in paddocks which next autumn will be converted to new kiwifruit orchards after contouring and if that’s the case, cropping is an ideal way to help prepare the land.

Best varieties

Once the soil’s nutrient needs have been sorted, contact your seed merchant or rep to discuss the best maize varieties or forage crop seeds for your location and requirements. You might want to plant a maize which matures a little earlier or even later and there is plenty of choice now with modern breeds which have improved yields and are less susceptible to diseases and drought.

Once soil temperatures reach around 14 degrees and rising, it’s time to get the seed in but if potash has been applied, don’t forget to allow seven days before sowing seeds to prevent burning of the young emerging roots, especially if it turns dry.

Spend time and money on weed control too as there’s no point in doing everything else right if weeds are going to rob your plants of nutrients and moisture.

It’s also vital to keep your contractors in the loop regarding your plans so they can fit you into their schedule and be available when you want them.

Prices rising

Speaking of contractors, farmers should expect to pay a little more for their services this season. Contractors have kept their prices down to assist farmers while dairy prices have been depressed but contractors I have spoken to say they can’t continue to remain in business at prices which are at best break even, and worse, below cost, otherwise they may not be there when you need them.

Inflation may be low but contractors are hit with the costs of imported fuel, tyres and the replacement costs of machinery. The costs of leasing land for cropping is also going up, in some cases fueled by land converting to kiwifruit.

If farmers want their contractor there for the long term, it’s time to show support in accepting a modest increase in charges.

On that note the cost of maize is also looking like going up as low prices, low yields and rising costs are hurting feed supply companies too.

Maize is likely to be even more important this season as Fonterra keeps a close eye on and monitors the amount of PKE fed to cows, with residues showing up in their milk. Maize is low in protein and high in starch so makes a good mix to help dilute the high protein in PKE, so helps to keep levels down.

Turn dry

It might not seem like it but things have to turn dry at some stage and when they do, grass protein content will go up as pasture becomes more mature which is also when you need to supplement with PKE but this is more than likely when you will have an issue with feeding high levels of PKE.

So you will need to reduce PKE intake and supplement with low protein grass or maize silage to help stay within Fonterra’s guidelines. We have bulk grass silage available now for stacking on-farm and are taking orders for maize silage as well for the coming season.

So get your contract in early to avoid missing out as limited supply means demand will be up. So, as I say, plan for the worst and hope for the best.


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